Porsche defeats Toyota once again

The FIA WEC returned for its short American round last weekend with the Six Hours of Mexico amid lingering uncertainty about the series’ future as a whole raft of changes will give the championship a revamped look for 2018. Rumors turned into officially-confirmed information this past week as the FIA WEC geared up for its Mexican race which counted as round five of the 2017 season. Before we delve into the news, this was the status quo after the end of the European leg: Porsche, winners of this year’s Le Mans, announced they would pull the plug on their P1-H program one year earlier than originally planned, thus leaving Toyota as the only manufacturer in the top tier category.

With Peugeot, supposedly the closest manufacturer to a works program in the top class, still far away, the FIA and ACO had to react – and quickly. The reaction was two-fold: first off, according to Gerard Neveu – the man in charge of the championship, Porsche’s unexpected departure left the organizers with no choice but to alter the championship’s format which will take the shape of a super season for next year. This means the series will kick off with the Spa-Francorchamps Six Hours in May and end with the 2019 edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Continue reading for the full story.

Big Changes

We’ll have a transitional winter season in store for next year that will house two Le Mans races

What that means, in short, is that we’ll have a transitional winter season in store for next year that will house two Le Mans races, two Spa races (no return for COTA, Mexico, Nurburgring or Silverstone) and, most important for American fans, Sebring! Neveu called it a “transitional” season as, for 2019-2020, the season should start in October and end at Le Mans the following June. Now, going back to the Sebring round. It will, indeed, be a 12-hour race but, at present, won’t be a joint event with the IMSA-sanctioned Weathertech Championship. Instead, the FIA WEC race will take place right after the 12-hour IMSA race in a 24-hour endurance festival!

There will also be a yet-announced round in February which brings the total to seven – down by two from this season’s total of nine. The idea was to benefit from sea freight to transport the cars in equipment which, in turn, should cut costs by two-thirds. This means that the cost for running the 2018-2019 super season will be as big as running this year’s normal one.

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Both the ACO and the FIA agreed that the cost of a P1-Hybrid program is not sustainable

Besides changing the look of the championship, and what races it does and doesn’t include, Porsche’s departure also made the organizers think twice about the future of the much lamented 2020-bound plug-in hybrid rules. This set of rules was announced at Le Mans but, in the eve of Porsche’s imminent exit, both the ACO and the FIA agreed that the cost of a P1-Hybrid program is not sustainable which means they are now looking at substantially altering that set of rules.

The “old-new rules” mandated the use of plug-in hybrid technology and the necessity for all cars to be able to complete one kilometer at racing speed under electric power alone. Given that the budgets today are in the area of $200 millions, much of that may be cut out of the equation although Neveu stressed that technology – and hybridization – remain highly important for the championship.

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More engine options will be on the table for those interested in joining the hybrid class

"The question will be, "Where do we put the level of the costs of the budget [for it to be] acceptable.’ But nothing to compare with what’s going on today." Neveu also said. What’s known is that, for next year, we’ll see a single LMP1 class with the plan being to align the former "light" P1 cars with the Hybrid ones (if there will be any left – which we should find out in October when Toyota makes its plans public). While the Hybrid cars will still have a slight upper hand in terms of fuel consumption, the officials made it clear that more engine options will be on the table for those interested in joining the category.

Going back to what the future might bring, Pierre Fillon, the head of the ACO, and Gerard Neveu also made an interesting comment about the DPi platform. The two addressed their hopes that, with the current homologation of the DPi cars expiring in 2020, there could be hopes of a homogenization of the rules between IMSA’s premier prototype cars with the LMP1 cars. This could, potentially, see very similar (if not identical) cars fight it out for overall wins at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans. This prospect would be a big incentive for a manufacturer like McLaren to join the party – says none other than the manufacturer’s boss, Zak Brown.

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With the current homologation of the DPi cars expiring in 2020, there could be hopes of a homogenization of the rules with LMP1

For sure, a move to something like we’ve seen in the ‘80s and early ‘90s with certain GTP cars also able to run the World Sportscar Championship is tempting to talk about for everyone involved but there are many elements to be put in place before that could happen – something Neveu and Fillon also agreed on. The biggest piece of good news here is that, at least, the French are open to discussions with the Americans which, somehow, felt like they were no longer “partners” after the original idea of letting DPI’s run at Le Mans was ditched – because, according to the ACO, that formula drifted too far away from the core principle of the global P2 regulations.

There might be, then, the chance of the sun shining yet again in prototype endurance racing even after this almighty shake up caused by Porsche’s exit. We’ll have to wait and see, though, as we are far from even knowing who’ll make up the grid next year, let alone three-four years from now…

2018-19 WEC Schedule (Provisional):

  • May 4-5 — Spa-Francorchamps
  • June 16-17 — 24 Hours of Le Mans
  • October 13-14 — Fuji Speedway
  • November 3-4 — Shanghai
  • February (2019) — TBC
  • March 15-16 (2019) – Twelve Hours of Sebring
  • May 3-4 (2019) – Spa-Francorchamps
  • June 15-16 (2019) – 24 Hours of Le Mans

With that issue settled – or further deepened – it’s time to go back to the matters of recent past, the Six Hours of Mexico held on the fabled Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City.

Qualifying

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Porsche was clearly dominant in free practice in the high altitude of the Mexican track

Porsche was clearly dominant in free practice in the high altitude of the Mexican track, the duo of Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley then locking up pole position in qualifying thanks to a 1:24.562 average, quicker by 0,148-seconds than that of team-mates Andre Lotterer and Nick Tandy. In spite of Toyota’s struggles, both TS050s qualified within a second off the pole time while, as previously mentioned, no P1-L cars were present.

Nicolas Lapierre and team-debutant Andre Negrao signed Signatech-Alpine’s first pole in 2017 with an unbeatable average of 1:32.809. The No. 36 Gibson-powered car was almost 0,3-seconds quicker than the nearly identical No. 38 machine of championship leaders Thomas Laurent and Ho-Pin Tung. Vaillante Rebellion’s No. 31 car and the sister Jackie Chan DC Racing ORECA filled up the second row in LMP2.

Down in the GT ranks it was Davide Rigon and Sam Bird who took the GTE-Pro pole for AF Corse

Down in the GT ranks it was Davide Rigon and Sam Bird who took the GTE-Pro pole for AF Corse. Their 1:39.425 was marginally better than the best that Marco Sorensen and Nicki Thiim could muster in the No. 95 works Aston-Martin Vantage. It was the second class pole for the two Ferrari men as the pair of Fords followed suit in third and fourth and the second Aston-Martin in fifth. Just like in the most recent IMSA race, the Porsches struggled while the second Ferrari started from the back after a late engine switch.

Christian Ried’s effort gave Dempsey-Proton an unexpected GTE-Am pole. He and Matteo Cairoli managed a 1:42.166 aboard the No. 77 Porsche 991 GTE, just 0,042-seconds ahead of Dalla-Lana and Lamy’s average in the No. 98 Aston-Martin. Porsche’s Am-class pole came as Proton Racing announced their intention to buy four 2017-spec mid-engined 911s to run in 2018 as Porsche will start selling customer cars of the now works-run models.

LMP1 Class

The race got underway rather uneventfully with the two Porsche 919s rapidly stretching their legs ahead of the pack

The race got underway rather uneventfully with the two Porsche 919s rapidly stretching their legs before showing clear superiority through traffic compared to the two TS050s. The two Toyotas, No. 7 ahead of No. 8, were already almost half a minute between the leading No. 2 and the pursuing No. 1 after 60 minutes of running.

The next 120 minutes saw the Toyotas lose time at an almost identical pace, falling back one minute and 20 seconds at the half-way mark. At that point, the No. 2’s lead was 20-seconds-strong over the No. 1 919 which lost time after it had to do a drive through. The punishment was received because the car had not respected the pit lane speed limit. Meanwhile, Jose-Maria Lopez briefly took P3 away from Nakajima in the No. 8 TS050. The order was changed once again during the third round of stops. It’s worth mentioning that, during its third stop, the No. 2 prototype underwent a fuel flow meter change which was done while the car was being refueled which resulted in 0 time loss.

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Porsche crossed the finish line to score a dominant 1-2 victory with the No. 2 winning its third race in a row

Three hours later and, with none of the forecast rain showing up, Porsche crossed the finish line to score a dominant 1-2 victory with the No. 2 winning its third race in a row. With this result, Earl Bamber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley extend their championship lead while Toyota’s best finisher was the No. 8 which came home third and a full lap behind the Porsches. There really isn’t much more to say about the P1 “battle” because, in actuality, there wasn’t one. As Anthony Davidson, driver of the No. 8 car, stated post-race, their car suffered quite significantly in the more technical sectors number, two and three, which couldn’t be countered by their small sector one advantage.

LMP1 Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 2 Porsche LMP Team Bernhard/Bamber/Hartley Porsche 919 Hybrid 240
2 1 Porsche LMP Team Jani/Lotterer/Tandy Porsche 919 Hybrid 240
3 8 Toyota Gazoo Racing Buemi/Davidson/Nakajima Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 239
4 7 Toyota Gazoo Racing Conway/Kobayashi/Lopez Toyota TS050 - Hybrid 239

LMP2 Class

If LMP1 disappointed, LMP2 offered probably the best race of the season

If LMP1 disappointed, LMP2 offered probably the best race of the season. Frankly put, there were at least two cars dueling at any moment throughout the six hours – a strong case for the lack of variety in the Gibson-powered category.

The No. 31 Vaillante Rebellion ORECA was out in front after the first round of pit stops with 60 minutes elapsed. The car was started by Bruno Senna who went on to build a stunning 26-second gap before choosing the unpopular move to change drivers. This left Nicolas Prost with a slim 4.3-seconds cushion for the second stint. That gap was over Alex Lynn’s No. 26 G-Drive ORECA while Lapierre’s ORECA lost two places and ran third after one hour.

Two hours further down the road and the No. 31 was still the leader but big fights were boiling behind it. For starters, Roman Rusinov had an on and off and on again fight with Gustavo Menezes in the No. 36 Signatech-Alpine entry. The American tried every move in the book – including going off track as much as five times in a single lap – to pass the Russian but to no avail. The two even made contact a number of times and, after Menezes left the car to Negrao, it dropped to fourth. That promoted the CEFC Manor Racing ORECA No. 24 up to third (featuring a great drive by Jean-Eric Vergne) while the No. 26 remained in P2.

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The trio in the No. 31 sports car finished ahead of the pole-sitting Signatech-Alpine

Rounding out the top five was the No. 13 ORECA entered by Vaillante Rebellion which actually started from the tail end of the field. They managed to make a surge up the order while there was drama in the Jackie Chan DC Racing camp. The championship-leading No. 38 car had to stop with suspected clutch issues which ultimately dropped it to the back of the field.

In spite of a number of hard-charging crews behind, Julien Canal, Nicolas Prost and Bruno Senna managed to block every attack to come out as victors in the Six Hours of Mexico. The trio in the No. 31 sports car finished ahead of the pole-sitting Signatech-Alpine of Nicolas Lapierre, Andre Negrao and Gustavo Menezes who benefitted from a spin by Ben Hanley late in the race. The latter was running second in the No. 24 CEFC Manor car and, having fresher rubber, was chasing down leader Senna (after doing much the same with then-second-placed Lapierre). He got close but then spun in the Stadium section which meant third was best that himself, Vergne and Matt Rao got.

The No. 26 G-Drive car finished fourth due to Pierre Thiriet’s lack of pace in the middle bit of the running. The second Rebellion machine was fifth in class just in front of Jackie Chan DC Racing’s No. 37 car which could not convert its pace into a better result in a bad weekend for the Chinese team.

LMP2 Top 5 Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 31 Vaillante Rebellion Canal/Prost/Senna Oreca 07 - Gibson 219
2 36 Signatech Alpine Matmut Lapierre/Menezes/Negrao Alpine A470 - Gibson 219
3 24 CEFC Manor TRS Racing Rao/Hanley/Vergne Oreca 07 - Gibson 219
4 26 G-Drive Racing Rusinov/Thiriet/Lynn Oreca 07 - Gibson 219
5 13 Vaillante Rebellion Beche/Heinemeier-Hansson/Piquet Oreca 07 - Gibson 218

GTE-Pro Class

Aston Martin won following a penalty applied to Ferrari

It was win number two for Aston-Martin this season. The No. 95 of Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen did not come out in front of the No. 71 Ferrari of Alessandro Pier Guidi and Davide Rigon, but the latter had 10 seconds added to their overall time which was enough to hand the win to the Danes.

The two battled all race long and were never more than a few seconds apart, also making up for the lack of action in LMP1. The penalty for the Ferrari came after it was deemed that it had sped under a FCY. Third home was the No. 91 Porsche of Fred Makowiecki and Richard Lietz which had a clean and steady run while others took themselves out.

That’s the case for the sister AF Corse Ferrari and the No. 66 Ford. While the No. 67 finished fourth – maintaining its championship lead – the No. 66 traded paint multiple times in the Stadium section during the third hour. It resulted in punctures for both cars and some suspension damage for the Ford, as well as penalties. Olivier Pla and James Calado were the drivers involved, the former receiving two penalties – one for avoidable contact and another for crossing the white line after entering the pit lane. The second penalty is a bit dubious since, clearly, the Ford was shaken and almost out of control following the multiple clashes with the Ferrari, Pla barely being able to steer the car into the pit lane at all.

In the end, the No. 51 finished sixth and the Ford seventh, both behind the No. 92 Porsche. Meanwhile the only retirement was recorded by the No. 97 Aston-Martin which bowed before brake issues.

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GTE-Pro Top 5 Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 95 Aston Martin Racing Thiim/Sorensen Aston Martin Vantage 209
2 71 AF Corse Rigon/Bird Ferrari 488 GTE 209
3 91 Porsche GT Team Lietz/Makowiecki Porsche 911 RSR 208
4 67 Ford Chip Ganassi Team UK Priaulx Tincknell 207
5 92 Porsche GT Team Christensen/Estre Porsche 911 RSR 207

GTE-Am Class

Matteo Cairoli, Marvin Dienst and Christian Ried made it two in a row in GTE-Am

Matteo Cairoli, Marvin Dienst and Christian Ried made it two in a row in GTE-Am. The three drivers of the No. 77 Proton-entered Porsche won ahead of the No. 98 Aston-Martin which anyway had less pace once Lamy was out of the car. On top of that, it later had to take a drive through penalty which just about sealed the deal. Gulf Racing UK finished third with another Porsche, thus making this the first ever all-Dunlop podium in WEC racing history.

Clearwater Racing – championship leaders coming into Mexico – had a tough outing. Early on, Mok Weng Sun was involved in a clash with the No. 92 Porsche for which he was deemed at fault. Besides the penalty it received, the incident also left the No. 61 Ferrari with damage, a legacy it would carry for the rest of the running. It also had to serve a second drive-through for speeding on pit lane.

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GTE-Am Results

Pos No. Team Drivers Car Laps
1 77 Dempsey - Proton Racing Ried/Cairoli/Dienst Porsche 911 RSR 204
2 98 Aston Martin Racing Dalla Lana/Lamy/Lauda Aston Martin V8 Vantage 203
3 86 Gulf Racing UK Wainwright/Barker/Foster Porsche 911 RSR 203
4 54 Spirit of Race Flohr/Castellacci/Molina Ferrari 488 GTE 201
5 61 Clearwater Racing Mok/Sawa/Griffin Ferrari 488 GTE 199

Full Results

Check out the full results from the Six Hours of Mexico. http://www.dailysportscar.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/FIA-WEC-2017-Mexico-Result.pdf

What’s Next?

Up next in the FIA World Endurance Championship is the North-American round scheduled September 16 at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Next up is the Six Hours of Fuji in Japan on October 15, followed by the Six Hours of Shanghai in China on November 5. Finally, the Six Hours of Bahrain takes place on November 18.

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